“A Happy Accident:” How a New Species of Centipede Was Named After a Floyd County Artist

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FLOYD COUNTY, Virginia. – Of all the creatures and things in the world, having a centipede named after you is not something that many people think of. It seems like a once in a lifetime deal, but it happened to a woman in Floyd County.

That woman is Ruth Neumann, an artist and musician better known as Starroot.

As crazy as it sounds, it’s not that strange that something like this happens to Starroot, someone who loves and appreciates nature and who lives right in the beautiful valleys of Floyd County.

Starroot with his art (Star root)

The story begins in April 2014 when Tony DiMeglio, a Virginia Tech graduate student at the time who was studying termites, was examining his soil for research.

“He asked, ‘Can I bring my friend from Virginia Tech? He’s a centipede researcher. Because you might have some interesting land for him to search, ”Starroot recalls.

Of course, Starroot said yes, and Dr Jackson Means is coming, who has dedicated his career to learning centipedes.

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While he was preparing his doctorate. at Virginia Tech, he took a review on a kind of centipede called Nannaria which was started in the 1960s by the late Dr. Richard Hoffman, former curator at the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

Means said he found Hoffman’s collection at Virginia Tech and borrowed it to continue studying more on Nannaria. He called it the “impetus” of it all.

“It’s a group of centipedes that are small and not well studied at all. There are tons of species in the Appalachians and there were only 18 known species and after my review I added 35 more species and two more in another post, ”Means said. “And there is still more to discover.”

In October 2014, Means and DiMeglio visited the Starroot property, which was full of untouched land with various insects and arthropods to discover.

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“I just wanted to collect anywhere because these things don’t fly, they’re blind, they’ve been in these places and ravines for millennia,” Means recalls. “The point is, the Starroot ownership was totally new. Hoffman didn’t have any in his collection, so it was a fluke.

Means, a myriapodologist now working at the Virginia Museum of Natural History, successfully discovered a new species of Nannaria while on the property of Starroot.

A photo of the Starroot property in Floyd County (Star root)

“He came to my land and wandered around for a few hours and he thought he had discovered a new species but said it might take years,” Starroot said.

Indeed, the completion of the Nannaria the revision took almost seven years as more and more species of this genus were found.

As he was found on his land, he decided to give the new species the name Starroot: Nannaria stellaradix. Means said he named it after his contribution in allowing the discovery to happen in the first place.

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“When [Dr. Jackson Means] contacted me and I was like “Really we have the new species” I yelled at my husband because I was really beside myself because I didn’t really expect this to happen. executed. I never thought that a new species would be found on my land! she explained.

Starroot, who comes from a German family full of doctors and scientists, said she was shocked at the news but extremely excited for it to happen.

The first thing she did when she found out that a new species of centipede was going to be named after her? She emailed her family.

“I instantly emailed them and said, ‘I have nothing to do with science, but guess what happened? And they just couldn’t believe it, ”she said. “I was so different from them! They are all scientists, and I was the only artist, musician, therapist in the family.

The musician said her brother, who is an expert on dragonflies, was just as excited and joked that he should focus on finding centipedes.

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Although months have passed since Starroot found out she had a new species of centipede named after her, her enthusiasm for the discovery has not waned.

“There is so much nature in Floyd and the Blue Ridge Mountains with little destroyed,” Starroot said. “And the centipede has been researched, but not like that, not excessively. It takes people like Dr. Jackson Means to really do this research and find them. It’s just amazing! I’m really impressed.

“Starroot is not a scientist. She’s an artist, an incredibly talented artist, but she clearly values ​​nature and science and what science can provide us, ”Means said. “It’s just a great example of how citizen science can really help [scientists] outside.”

To learn more about Nannaria stellaradix, Click here.

Copyright 2021 by WSLS 10 – All rights reserved.


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